NFL Rule Enforcement Going Too Far
There’s a rule when it comes to American law (theoretically), innocent until proven guilty. There’s a rule when it comes to reviews in the NFL, CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE. That rule however isn’t draped over the rules and regulations themselves when referees are attempting to enforce them. Instead if you’re close there’s going to be a flag. It all started when Bernard Pollard ended Tom Brady’s season on a low shot (while being blocked to the ground). This changed everything. Now not only could QBs simply roam outside the pocket and chuck the ball down field to avoid being hit (without penalty), not holy could you not hit them late, not only could you not hit them high, or when sliding now you couldn’t hit them low.
This year they’ve added defenseless player definitions, and expanded the definitions on spearing (hitting with the crown of the helmet). They’ve also made it nearly impossible to play man-on-man in the defensive backfield as you’re not allowed to breathe on the offensive players.
But what we’ve seen is purely the appearance of wrongdoing drawing flags. Instead of making a violent game safer it appears they’re trying to figure out a way to make a violent game appear to be safe.
In a game between the Seahawks and the 49ers (featuring embattled coach Jim Harbough) late in the game on 3rd and 5 from the 49ers red zone Nick Moody hit Russell Wilson (one of the leagues best dual-threat QBs) as the ball left his hand. He put his facemask in the middle of the 3 on Wilson’s chest. The pass fell incomplete but a yellow hanky hit the turf and the white hat without consulting with any other official turned his mic on and announced the violation of roughing the passer hitting with the crown of his helmet. Except he didn’t, and instead of their being a 4th down FG attempt possibly extending the lead to 6, the Seahawks were given a new lease and scored a touchdown essentially icing the game.
To his credit Ed Hochuli the referee that made the call owned the mistake. But the league shouldn’t put him in a position to make such a critical call using only his judgment.
This was the latest in a string of these calls throughout the league, and all are damaging to the game and problematic for the sport. It’s gotten to the point that every time a QB goes to the ground he looks at the ref with palms in the air. And as if that’s not enough it’s permeated itself throughout the game. A great example of this is a hit on Denver Bronco’s wideout Emanuel Sanders.
Rams Safety McCloud was over the top with deep coverage. The corner on the play was responsible for underneath, he was beat. Manning saw it and threw it on a rope to lead Sanders who had beaten his man. McCloud was deep middle and the play took place on the sideline after taking a full sprint approach McCloud got to Sanders at the same time as the ball. Ball hits Sanders’ hands, McCloud annihilates Sanders (a defenseless receiver at the time). And the flag drops, and he’s flagged for helmet to helmet contact. The problem, the film clearly shows that not only did McCloud not lead or initiate contact with his helmet. Their helmets never even touched. Now the referees got together to discuss this, and I’d give $1,000 to know what was said. Because if any of them said “I saw their helmets hit” he should be fired.
I don’t call for anyone’s firing lightly. And I’m not sure any of them did say they saw that. But if they did, and it clearly didn’t happen shouldn’t we get rid of the officials that are imagining things in the field. And shouldn’t these refs be doing this as a full time job? Should they not be told to quit their day job. Because throughout the season wouldn’t that give the Dean Blandino the NFL’s head of officiating more time to get these guys on the same page, to illustrate better what is and what is not a penalty so there is less of the discrepancy we’ve come to expect?
How to Fix It?
Start by demanding consistency from your referees. Do that by spending more time breaking down film with them, in a group. Be more public about the mistakes, and not just the obvious ones. Have Blandino host a show where he takes questions from fans or have Blandino do a conference call with media each week (If he can’t do it get a Communication of Rules Director. To allow people to understand why and how rules are being called. And most obviously make the rule of throwing a flag be the same as a challenge. Conclusive evidence, in other words you must see a penalty for a penalty to exist. If your view of the defender is blocked by the quarterback you can not throw that flag.